Last week, Chris and I drove to New Jersey for Thanksgiving. Chris’ family is from New Jersey, and many of his aunts and uncles and cousins still live there. He hasn’t seen many of them in many years, and he talked about wanting to visit for several years, but it just never worked out for one reason or another. Finally, this year, we decided to make it happen.
(It’s funny: It was difficult trying to figure out how to phrase that short paragraph, and reading it back, I realize just HOW MUCH is hiding just behind those four sentences, filling in all the gaps that don’t even seem to be there. I guess that’s always the way it is when you talk about family though.)
I am really glad that we went. Our trip was divided into two main visits: Thanksgiving dinner with two of his maternal aunts and their families, and another dinner a couple days later with his cousins on his dad’s side. Besides a little initial awkwardness that can only be expected after decades (in some cases) of no contact (“Why are you here again?”), both gatherings were exceptionally inviting and warm.
At Thanksgiving dinner, I loved watching everyone move seamlessly from room to room, joining and leaving conversations, playing with children, passing around their babies, and enjoying being with one another. In my mind, I kept comparing it to my own childhood holidays, which inevitably ended in some screaming match or other disaster. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner always felt like watching the clock wind down on a bomb.
Instead, I watched this family sincerely enjoy being with each other, asking about each other’s lives, sharing in each other’s joy — even going around the table and sharing the things for which they were thankful, often with tears in their eyes — an activity that might have seemed painfully cheesy to me under other circumstances but for the fact that it was so sincere, and that sincerity was infecting.
It was the same with Chris’ cousins a few days later. People who were genuinely happy to be with one another and with us. People who doted on our baby like she was their own. People who were happy for the chance to pour over pictures and share memories — even with someone they hadn’t seen since many of the photos were taken.
When Chris and I were taking the long drive home, I said to him, “This is what a functional family looks like.”
I hope that we are able to provide the same kind of family for Quinn and make the same kind of memories for her. I worry about our ability to do that with our own families being what they are. But I hope that with time we are able to focus on our own little family (which may grow) and distance ourselves from those toxic memories and toxic connections.